First-year students are now eligible for a spot on the Board of Trustees.
Duke Student Government passed an amendment to the Young Trustee bylaws Oct. 18, making it so that first-year students can now run for the position. This has sparked debate over what role freshmen candidates will play in the Young Trustee selection process and whether they have enough experience to compete for a role that traditionally goes to seniors.
First-year students have had less time on campus, but they could offer something that older students may not be able to, freshman Grace Oathout said.
“Freshmen have the advantage of having a brief, immediate image of Duke since they’re not completely assimilated to the Duke culture just yet,” she said. “They are able to speak on their immediate impression of Duke and see clearly what needs changing.”
Each year, a Young Trustee is voted to serve on the Board for a three-year term to represent the student body’s current concerns and interests, as well as provide student perspectives on administrative rulings. Candidates for the position are first vetted by the Young Trustee Nominating Committee and then are chosen via popular election.
During the first year on the Board, the elected Young Trustee serves as a non-voting observer, but for the following two years the YT joins the ranks of the voting members.
The amendment to open the race to all students was proposed by junior Patrick Oathout, executive vice president of DSG and the chair of the DSG Rules Committee. Oathout wrote in an email Wednesday that he felt strongly that freshmen should not be excluded from running simply because of their age.
“If a first-year really is qualified for Young Trustee they should be able to run,” he said. “If they’re not, they’ll be screened out in the application process.”
Kaveh Danesh, Trinity ’12, who was elected Young Trustee in the Spring, said the Young Trustee is just another member of the Board when it comes to upholding the University’s mission. The “young” title exemplifies the position’s purpose of providing a sense of the live, current Duke to the Board during the decision-making process.
Danesh said he does not oppose the revision, citing that an age cut-off is always arbitrary. Some, though, may claim that freshmen have not had enough time to accumulate experience, he noted.
Nearly all those elected by the undergraduate student body to the Young Trustee position since its inception in 1972 have been graduating seniors. Thus, when students are faced with a choice between a freshman candidate and senior candidate, the older student appears to win out, Danesh said, adding that this should not bar freshmen from running.
“Every once in a while, there might come a first-year who has accumulated more experience relevant to the position than any other student who chose to run,” he said. “Shouldn’t he or she, at the very least, be given a chance?”
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The amount of experience a student garners while at Duke is not necessarily correlated with time, Danesh added.
“Running based on merits is the most impartial solution,” he said.
DSG President Alex Swain, a senior, expressed her trust that the vetting process for the position results in the most qualified candidates.
“Whoever they choose will be the appropriate choice, whether it’s a freshman or not,” Swain said.